As each song on this album starts, it’s impossible to predict where the individual musician’s inventiveness will take them.
Myriad Streams – MYRIAD 001
Phi Bancroft (tenor saxophone); Paul Harrison (piano); Stu Ritchie (drums); Aidan O’Donnell (bass)
On Degrees of Freedom, saxophonist Phil Bancroft and his quartet play as if they already know the maps to their melodies and follow those routes with energy and bravery, eager for discovery. The jazz on this album is dramatic, leaving the listener on the edge of their seat as the quartet follows every melodic and temporal twist and turn as the musicians chase their melodies together.
“The purpose of the album was to explore compositions with more structured chord sequences and how this meets elements of freedom within the music.” That purpose is brilliantly illustrated in each song on the album.
Phil Bancroft has timed the release of Degrees of Freedom with the launch of Myriad Streams, a new music streaming service. It heralds a significant move as the first of eight albums to be released on Myriad Streams, a brand-new bespoke artist-led web platform. “Myriad Streams is conceived as an antidote to Spotify,” explains Bancroft.
“A human not industrial scale presentation of culture, providing a calm place for listeners to get to know one artist – without 100,000 other artists clamouring for their attention.” More information about Myriad Streams is available at: https://www.myriadstreams.com/about/Welcome/.
‘Finlay MacDonald Ate My Hamster’ is as playful as its title. The band chases Bancroft’s sax as it charges ahead as the horn player explores all the melodic possibilities. The horn bends and wails the notes in the post-bop (bebop) tradition. The piano continues the swing with adroit drumming. Even the bass gets into the solo groove. The band runs on all cylinders. The ending of the song crackles.
All the song titles on this album reflect the music’s creativity and free spirit.
‘Who Cares About the B Test’ begins with a stately saxophone opening as the piano riffs under Bancroft’s horn, each instrument stating its complementary case. Stu Ritchies’s drums shimmer and splash behind them. The quart delivers this creative and inventive balancing act for the entire song. Just past the 3:00 mark, Bancroft’s saxophone enters a stately progression. It’s impossible not to get carried away and follow his every note to the end, even as it wails into the song’s second half. The music turns quiet as the piano makes its soft case again, answering the sax.
‘May Well Happen’ is slow and graceful as complementary sax and piano arpeggios set the mood. A brief respite from the zealous pace of the previous songs on the album. It begins deceptively simply but is far from simple.
The also brilliantly titled ‘Larry De Luxe and the Temple of Zoom’ begins with a drone that dissolves into an Indian motif, perhaps inspired by the project Bancroft has been working on with tabla player Gyan Singh.
The song evolves from there into an emotional saxophone against the delicate and spare rhythm of bass and drums. Paul Harrison’s lovely piano provides just the right bridge between the two. When the song proceeds toward its end, its exotic beginning is remembered but lost in the distance.
‘Free’ features nimble bass and drums instantly propel the saxophone into the stratosphere. All four musicians sound like they are moving along their distinct paths but still fit together as self-defined pieces.
Marching and like a hard bop song, ‘Degrees of Freedom’ starts like A hard bop song and moves briskly and happily. Bancroft’s saxophone melody is irresistible, with simultaneously jagged and round edges. The quartet morphs and swings and, even in quiet moments, propel the song along. Dynamic rhythms almost collide and then turn the corner and cooperate as they play and tease the dissonant extremes of their melodies.
Degrees of Freedom is literally free jazz, not in the traditional Ornette Colman/Karl Berger sense, but in the sense that this music is only limited by the musician’s imagination and inspiration.
Degrees of Freedom draws from traditional jazz and more forward-looking elements into a cohesive whole. As each song on this album starts, it’s impossible to predict where the individual musician’s inventiveness will take them.
Reviewed by Ben Miller